Bengal Gazetteers: Feudatory States of Orissa
Before Independence, British administrators in India published imperial district gazetteers, including those for Angul, Balasore, Cuttack, Koraput, Puri and the ‘Feudatory States of Orissa’. This gazetteer, published in 1910, describes various aspects of this group of 24 dependent territories attached to the Orissa Division.
In 1910, these were: 17 states in the Orissa Division known as the Tributary Mahals or Garhjats; five Odiya-speaking states formerly attached to the Chhattisgarh Division of the Central Provinces; and two states formerly attached to the Chota Nagpur Division.
Part one of the gazetteer surveys the economy, society, politics and administrative setup as well as the history, geography, climate, biodiversity and natural resources of all the Feudatory State as a whole. Part two covers the same aspects but has a detailed chapter on each territory.Ten years after Independence, in 1957, the responsibility of compiling the district gazetteers was transferred from the Centre to the states. In 1999 (in Odisha), this responsibility was transferred from the Revenue Department to the Gopabandhu Academy of Administration.
The gazetteer notes that the Feudatory States had no “connected or authentic history” and were mostly independent of one another. The first settlers of the region were the “aboriginal races,” such as the Bhuiya, the Savar, the Gond and the Khond, and their many sub-groups, each with its own chief. During Rajput, Mughal and Maratha rule, each State acknowledged the suzerainty of these dynasties and was allowed to define its own growth and boundaries. In 1803-04, when the British occupied Orissa (now Odisha), the Marathas ceded 17 States along with the rest of Orissa.
The incessant fighting with neighbours meant that the States were constantly re-defining their boundaries. So most inhabitants of the area, whether indigenous tribes or conquerors, had led a nomadic lifestyle. The States had no rich archaeological or architectural remains.
According to the 1901 Census, the States had a population of 3,173,395 occupying an area of 28,125 square miles. The population density (113 persons per square mile) was almost double what it was in 1872 (58 per square mile).
There were three municipalities in the States (Baripada, Sonpur and Binka) and five towns with more than 5,000 people each (Sonpur, Bhuban, Deogarh, Baripada and Dhenkanal). The principal rivers were the Mahanadi, the Brahmani, the Baitarani, the Burabalang, the Ang and the Tel.
The gazetteer says that presence of low hills and forests made the climate “unhealthy” and malaria prevailed, especially during the rainy season and the beginning of the cold weather. Fever and bowel complaints were the major causes of death in the States.
The States had 39 dispensaries in 1907-08, which were all well stocked with medicines and surgical instruments and had room for male and female patients. These dispensaries were usually in the headquarters of each State, except in Tigiria, which only had an ‘Ayurvedic Hall’.
While the States were not affected by “the ravages of severe famine”, devastating floods of the Mahanadi and the Brahmani rivers in 1908 affected the villages along their banks.
According to the 1901 Census, 86.9 per cent of the population was Hindu, 12.07 per cent Animist, 0.36 per cent Muslim and 0.09 per cent Christian. Traces of Buddhism were found in the States of Baramba and Baud. There were 30 castes and tribes in the States with a population of over 25,000 persons each, and they constituted 82.9 per cent of the total population.
An entire section of Chapter III is about the Bhuiya, a “wild” hill tribe spread across the States. It is described in great detail, more than any other tribe. The gazetteer also mentions castes tied to their occupation, such as the Khandait or a military caste; the Karan, a writer caste; the Bhulia, a weaver caste; the Chasa, a cultivating class; the Gaura, a pastoral caste and the Hari, who were sweepers or grass-cutters. It says that the Khond were the most important and numerous of the indigenous tribes and a detailed account about them could be found in the Angul district gazetteer.
Over 70 per cent of the population was engaged in agriculture, compared to 13.9 per cent which was involved in industry and 0.27 per cent in trade. Agriculture was entirely dependent on rainfall and the crops grown included rice, sugarcane, maize, millets, oil seeds and turmeric.
Skilled labourers, including carpenters, ironsmiths and masons, were paid 2 annas 3 pies to Re. 1 and 4 annas per day (one rupee = 16 annas = 64 paisa = 192 pies). Unskilled labourers were paid 2-3 annas a day, while agricultural labourers were paid in kind, as were artisans.
Silk, cotton and iron manufactured in the States were considered to be of excellent quality. Most trade was conducted with Cuttack, Balasore, Puri and Sambalpur. Tusser (or tussar) cocoons, hides and horns were among the goods exported. The lack of communication was reportedly the main obstacle to the growth of trade.
Focus and Factoids by Aditi Chandrasekhar.
L.E.B. Cobden-Ramsay, Indian Civil Service
Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, Calcutta
01 Jan, 1910